“When Cobra first got arrested, he was brand new in the game.” Victor leaned on the hospital door and stared out the little window at Danillo in the hall. “Stupid mistake slipped up, Danillo caught it, next thing I knew, Cobra was in jail. Danillo sat me down. Asked me what I wanted to do with my life, why I was following Cobra’s footsteps. I told him Cobra was my best friend before he became Cobrador. Danillo told it to me real. Said if I didn’t opt out, Cobra was going to take me down with him. And now look at me. I’m six feet under.”
Victor wandered to the chair on the right side of the hospital bed.
“Are you still loyal to him now?” Keitaro said.
“To Cobra?” Victor shook his head as his eyes fell to his lap in disappointment. “Naw, man. He’s hurt enough people. I want him knocked on his ass.”
“Just like that? Cold turkey in one night?”
“I’m out of options. I can’t get out of this myself, I’ve tried.” He tugged the collar away from his neck. “The chain looks like it’s broken when you aren’t commanding me, but it’s not. I walked two miles down to the gas station and we were still connected. There’s no escaping it. Plus”—Victor rocked back in his chair like a pouting little boy—“a bullet to the head can inspire all kinds of change.”
Keitaro wrapped the chain around his knuckles to make it taut between him and Victor. “This stays. Until you can prove your loyalties have shifted.”
Victor’s head tipped back as the collar tightened. “I understand.”
Keitaro loosened the chain, and Victor’s head lowered into place.
“Cobra isn’t Cobra anymore, is he?”
“Cobra hasn’t been Cobra for a while now.”
“I know nothing about demons.”
“All I know is they’re soulless and strong. Cobra can bench our combined weight.”
“Know any priests?”
“I look like I go to church?”
“Do you have a plan?”
“It’s when snakes wrap their bodies around their heads to defend themselves. We uncoil Cobra.”
“Take out the body of the organization to get to the head of it.”
“Yeah.” Victor shifted forward to put his elbows on his knees. “How do you plan on taking everybody out if not by death? You know they won’t be so merciful toward you.”
“The law. We’ll use Danillo for the light work. We’ll find a priest to deal with Cobra.”
“I should be free of the necromancer curse.”
“What happens to me?”
“You’ll be free to decide where you’ll go next: Heaven or Hell.”
Victor took a moment to contemplate his personal freedom in the Afterlife.
“Can you believe I followed Cobra to save him?”
“When someone’s going through addiction, you can’t force them out of it. They have to hit rock bottom and see for themselves how it’s destroying them. He got real low one night after getting his ass kicked by Rogue, the guy that used to own the 13th Hour. Cobra was sober that night, hadn’t touched coke or bud or booze, and was crying, wanting back everything he’d lost. I thought, you know, it’s about damn time. He fell asleep, and when he woke up, he was different. I was looking right at my brother but I wasn’t seeing him. It was someone else in there.
“He started talking about going to take Rogue’s place. I thought he was crazy. He armed up, went in there guns blazing, blew the staff away. He tortured Rogue for hours. I wasn’t in the room, but I heard him screaming from outside of it. When we went in, blood was everywhere. I mean on the fucking ceiling, puddled on the carpet. And the fucking guy’s tied to a chair just…butchered. Sliced up and red all over.”
“You stayed because you feared Cobra.”
“You make me sound like a bitch, but yeah, that’s why. I was used to seeing people look like you look now. Beat up and shit. But that…seeing somebody mutilated…I’ma be honest, it scared the shit out of me. If he could do that to another human being, what would he do to me for opting out, you know?”
“Why not use the other medium?”
“Gunner said I wasn’t the only one who could see the dead.”
“No. They’re long gone.” Victor’s face stiffened. “And they’re staying that way.”
“It’s real, though? That wasn’t a scare tactic?”
“They’re here in this city?”
Victor refrained from admitting it verbally, but his whole demeanor confessed it anyway.
“You’re guarding them.”
“You would, too.”
“After Cobra is brought to justice, will you show me to them?”
“You don’t know what you’re asking me.”
Keitaro sensed regret. “What’d you do to them?”
The answer to that haunted Victor’s eyes.
Keitaro wound the chain around his knuckles again. “I can command you to speak.”
“Then why haven’t you?”
“I respect privacy. But if the risk of Cobra cursing them arises, I’ll do whatever it takes to save them.”
“If it comes to that, you won’t have to command me to tell you their name. I’ll take you to them.”
Keitaro released the chain. “How did you even know I was a medium?”
“That demon knows things. Unspoken things. Especially your sins. He gave us your first name and told us to find you in Geneva. Took a lot of asking around, but a guy at your work finally gave us the answer we were looking for.”
“The fat manager. Asked him if ‘Keitaro’ was working yet, he said you wouldn’t be there until four. So we waited for you.
“We weren’t supposed to shoot you. It was supposed to be a simple pick up. We flash our guns in your face, you agree to go with us. But you fought back, so we reacted in self-defense.”
Keitaro glanced down at his arm cradled by the sling. “This was my first time being shot.”
“Thought you went down kinda easy considering how well you fought before we shot you.”
“It hurt a lot more than I could convince myself it didn’t.”
Keitaro stretched back to reach his cell phone and snatched it up. Defeated by shooting pains in his torso, he relaxed against the pillow a moment.
“That why you wanted to stay awhile? Soak up the pain meds?”
“No, I need to make arrangements. Danillo’s right. They know where I live, and they’re probably waiting for me to return to my car. I need a place to stay and a way to get there.” He downloaded the Uber app and scheduled a ride.
“I don’t even remember what color my clothes were.”
Keitaro looked up from his phone at the ghost.
“Everything here is like an old black and white movie. And I feel sad all the time. Not angry, not happy, not horny or hungry, just…sad.”
“You see no color?”
“Me and the other ghosts, yeah. The ones that would talk to me. They’re all over this fucking place, by the way.”
Keitaro closed his good eye, hoping not to encounter any during his stay.
“I’ve been thinking…All night I’ve been wondering…how do I get out?”
“Out of Purgatory?”
“Is that where I am?”
“You’re in between life and eternal life. Some people call it Purgatory, some call it the Afterlife. All I know is that if you lose too much energy, you’ll burn through the ground and you won’t come back.”
“But I can’t just stay here forever.”
“If you can go down, you can go up. Otherwise you wouldn’t be stuck between. Something tips the balance.”
“And that would be…?”
“Trading a sin for a good act or something.”
“You’re not sure?”
“I’ve never encountered a ghost desperate for salvation. If the ghost doesn’t challenge me or pose a threat, I ignore them. Opening yourself to the dead is as vulnerable as leaving your car unlocked with your wallet full of money in the passenger’s seat.”
“Fuck, man.” Victor smoothed his hand along his slicked back hair.
“Listen. If you help me take Cobra all the way to the exorcism, I swear I’ll find a way to save you. Not that it means much now, but I give you my word.”
Victor held onto Keitaro’s vow with what little hope he had left. “What do you wanna know?”
“What uncoiling the body of Cobrador’s empire looks like.”
“Okay then.” Victor leaned his elbows on his knees to think. “You start with his army at Las Casas.The Houses.”
“Cobra’s three drug distributors. Each house is operated by one guy and his crew, and is overlooked by us. I was in charge of David’s grow house, which is weed. Raul’s house is a meth lab, that’s Gunner’s. Daniel’s house is where we cut the cocaine. Thiago oversaw that one.”
“Where do the Houses branch off to?”
“From Las Casas, products are sold to consumers. Street dealers who distribute them to addicts, but all those people are who Danillo was talking about. Cobra calls, they rise. And trust me, I know a handful of them would kill you for a twenty dollar bill.”
“You know the dates and times when the drugs will be sold?”
“Thiago keeps the shipment logs in his office. It’s supposed to be all paperless. Word of mouth, you know? But to avoid hitting the same spots back to back and arousing suspicion, Thiago keeps the current shipment and previous shipment on file.”
“Think you can retrieve them?”
“You know the location of all three Houses?”
“Yeah I do.”
“After we give their location to Danillo?”
“You’re gonna work with Danillo?”
“Cobra is his case. No one will be more on our side than him,” Keitaro said.
“You’re smart.” Victor wiped a smile from his mouth. “First you bust their shipment. When the drugs go out for sale, you get the mules. Then you get David, Raul, and Daniel.”
“After we eliminate Cobra’s army?”
“You take away his hiding spot.”
“The 13th Hour.”
“Without the club and all his guards, he’ll have nowhere to go and no one to hide behind.”
“So we shut it down. Then what?”
“Gunner and Thiago would be all he has left. One’s trigger happy and the other’s a mastermind, but together they’re totally dysfunctional.”
“Once they’re out of the picture?”
“The exorcist will handle Dominus.”
“Then you’ll have Cobra all to yourself.”
Keitaro imagined that moment with excitement.
“You told Danillo you planned to take out Cobra’s empire before I told you you’d have to to get Cobra alone for the exorcism. Were you predicting you’d have to, or were you being ambitious?”
“The empire convinces Cobra he’s a criminal without consequence.”
“Power’s the most dangerous kind of drug.”
“Some men taste power and turn into monsters.”
“Some men were monsters already.”
Keitaro sensed a reason to pry but chose not to. “Think you can get the shipment logs while I check into a hotel?”
“Should be a good time.” Victor checked his wrist watch and laughed. “Habit.”
“What? Does time in Purgatory not match ours?”
“The hands on my watch are spinning. Time doesn’t exist here. Even your clocks are spinning. I can’t see daylight, couldn’t see the sun rise this morning. It stays the same here.”
“It’s almost four PM.”
“Cobra’s getting ready for work. Spends an hour in the bathroom shitting, then showering. He can’t start the process without picking motivational rap, then gels what little hair he has very particularly, spends another fifteen minutes hyping himself up flashing his reflection with his pistol.”
“He sounds like a work of art.”
“He waits until the last minute for everything, and he’s always late.”
Keitaro lifted his arm so the chain manifested. “We stay connected.”
“Don’t worry. I’m going in and coming right back out.”
“I won’t be here when you’re done. Find me at the Azer Hotel.”
Victor nodded and stood up from the chair.
“If my wallet’s still there…”
“Consider it done.”
Read from the beginning:
Chapter 5: The Tall Lady will be posted 2/28/2022!